French Translations and Reception of the Declaration of Independence

by Elise Marienstras, Naomi Wulf
French Translations and Reception of the Declaration of Independence
Elise Marienstras, Naomi Wulf
The Journal of American History
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French Translations and Reception
of the Declaration of Independence

Elise Marienstras and Naomi Wulf

The French and the American revolutions are said to be landmarks in the history of mankind, and each claimed to be exceptional, while each entertained a unique rela- tionship with the other, partly because of the short time that separated them. Indeed, although French culture stands alone in history, it is not without direct or indirect affiliation with the history of the United States. The American Declaration of Independence was valued by French readers of its time, and not only because French liberals enrolled in the dkfense of the British American colonies; in its French wording, the declaration became one of the philosophical and political references of the French who envisioned a utopian future.

Very early in the French revo1;tionary development, however, the American Dec- laration of Independence and other founding documents revealed themselves to be less and less relevant to French political culture. Strangely enough, as the American Revolution was rediscovered, so to speak, in the late twentieth century as the only valid model for revolutionary ideals, the declaration was no longer translated; earlier translations proved sufficient for modern readers, and commentators focused pri- marily on the more general and universal meaning the document conveyed.

After two centuries of translations and commentaries, it seems that the language of the Declaration of Independence has grown apart from French political culture, as a 1918 document, whose frontispieces are here reproduced, illustrates.' These two symmetrical pages of a document symbolizing the French-American alliance and friendship epitomize the misunderstandings arising from any attempt to transpose the spirit of the declaration from one culture to another. Even though the transla- tion beneath the icons comes out clear and faithful to the original text, the symbols that surmount them are not equivalent. For instance, to what extent is the motto Epluribus unum an accurate transposition of the French Une et indivisible?The lat- ter qualifies the French republic, but it is far from occupying the symbolic place that the American motto takes on the Great Seal of the United States. And is the Phry- gian cap, which symbolizes the popular revolution in France in 1789, a parallel to

Elise Marienstras is professor of American history at the University of Paris 7-Denis Diderot. Naomi Wulf is associate professor of American history at the University of Paris 12-Val de Marne.

' France-Amkrique-1776-1789-1917, Dkclaration di'nd+endance. Deklaration des Droits de l'Homme i. . ./ . Message dr* prbident Wilson (Declaration of Independence. Declaration of the Rights of Man [. . .I. Message by President Wilson), trans. into French I? H. Loysen, trans. into English J. H. Woods (n.p., 1918), 2-3.

The Journal of American History March 1999

When in the course of human events, it be- comes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have conneaed them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God

In this 1918 French publication, the American Declaration of Independence
is placed opposite its translation into French. The illustrations
suggest that, after a century, American and French symbols
of revolution had become distinct, not interchangeable.
Frontispiece drawn by Bernard Naudin.
Reproducedfram France-Amkrique-I 776-1 789-191 7,Declaration d'indtpendance.
Declaration des Droits de I'Homme. [. . .]. Message du president Wilson
(Declaration of the Rights ofMan j. . .]. Message by President
Wilson), trans. into French by l?H.Loysen, trans. into
Englirh by]. H. Woods (191 8), 2.
Courtesy Bibliothi.que Nationale de France, Paris.

the American torch of liberty? These symbols, engraved with the intention of dem- onstrating that the two republics were really sisters in history as well as in ideas, expose the misunderstandings born out of the difficulty of translating concepts from one culture to another, from the history of one nation to that of another.

In studying translations of the Declaration of Independence into French, we will dwell longer on the eighteenth-century publications than on those that followed; at the time of the two great revolutions, French debates on the American founding

4 JUILLET 1776.

il deuzent ndcflazre pour un petrple de romprr les liens pohtiques qt~i /un@aient 2 ut~ aautre & de prendre

Frontispiece for the French translation of the American Declaration
of Independence, drawn by Bernard Naudin.
ReproducedfFom France-Amkrique-1776-1789-1917, Declaration d'indkpendance.
DCclaration des Droits de 1'Homme. [. . .]. Message du prksident Wilson
(Declaration of the Rights of Man [. .]. Message by President
Wilson), trans, into French by I? H.Loysen, trans. into
English by]. H.Woods (1718),3.
Courtesy Bibliothk.que Nationale de France, Paris.

documents were lively bearers of political action. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attention to the Declaration of Independence and other American docu- ments dwindled, to be revived again according to the political and ideological needs of French history.

The Eighteenth-Century Migration of the Declaration of Independence

As early as August 1776, the American founding document traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to be translated and published for French readers, thirteen years before France experienced its own revolution. Most of the French translations of the Declaration of Independence and of the state constitutions appeared during this period of great enthusiasm for the American cause. French interest in America shifted from an anthropological reading of America as "early mankind" or as "euto- pia" to a revolutionary vision of a "free people"; further, there was much French national interest in the British-American struggle. "America had hardly declared its independence," as the marquis de Condorcet later remarked, "when [French] politi- cal leaders clearly understood that this happy revolution would necessarily result in the ruin of England and the prosperity of Fran~e."~

Indeed, by the time French revolutionary leaders at the National Assembly (AssemblCe Nationale, 1789- 1791) were discussing and drafting their own Declara- tion of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (DCclaration des Droits de 1'Homme et du Citoyen) and a constitution, they referred less to the Declaration of Indepen- dence than to the American state constitutions and bills of rights (especially the Vir- ginia Bill of Rights and the constitution of Pennsylvania), the Articles of Confedera- tion, and, to a lesser extent, the federal Constitution. Between 1777 and 1786, the state constitutions and bills of rights were published in France at least five times. We can, however, infer from allusions made at the National Assembly that the declara- tion, although often confused with the Virginia Bill of Rights, was constantly on the minds of the delegates. In the course of their debates, which lasted from 1789 to 1791, reference to the American documents was frequent; it acted as an indispens- able guide or foil in the conception of their own principles. Along with the liberal British tradition, the American model served the French delegates as a tool for elab- orating their own declaration of rights and defending various governmental princi- ples and options such as unicameralism versus bicameralism, the right of veto, and federalism. Our study will thus focus mainly on pre-French Revolution translations

LTranslations into English from French sources, unless otherwise identified, were done by Elise Marienstras and Naomi Wulf. Some eighteenth-century translations of the Declaration of Independence may have escaped the attention of compilers, and some publications have not survived; nonetheless, we can say that the bulk of the translations was made benveen 1776 and 1783, providing chronological evidence of the thesis of American influ- ence on the French Revolution. On the publication in French of American declarations and constitutional docu- ments, see Durand Echeverria, "French Publications of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitutions, 1776-1783," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 47 (no. 4, 1953), 313-38; Gilbert Chinard, "Notes on the French Translations of the 'Forms of Government or Constitutions of the Several United States,' 1778 and 1783," Yearbook of theAmerican Philosophical Society (1943), 88-106; and Bernard Faji, Bibliographie critique des ouvragesjangais relatifs aux Etats-Unis, 1770-1800 (A critical bibliography of French works relating to the United States, 1770-1800) (Paris, 1924). On the attitude of members of the French National Assembly toward the American Revolution, see Edna Hindie Lemay, "Lafitau, Demeunier, and the Rejection of the American Model at the French National Assembly, 1789- 179 1 ," in Images ofAmerica in Revolutionary France, ed. Michele R. Morris (Washington, 1990), 174. On the anthropological and mythical approach to America by French eighteenth-century philosophes, see Michele Duche, Anthropologie et histoire au sikcle des lumieres: Buffon, Bltaire, Rousseau (Anthropology and history in the era of the Enlightenment: Buffon, Voltaire, Rousseau) (Paris, 1971); and Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A History of the French Image of American Society (Princeton, 1957). The most acute observer of French mentalitks at the time of the American Revolution was Condorcet. [Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet], "L'Influence de la revolution d'Amerique sur I'opinion et la leg- islation de I'Europe" (The influence of the American Revolution on opinion and legislation in Europe), in Recherche~ historiques etpolitiques sur les Etats-Unis de IIAmkrique septentrionale . . .par un citoyen de Wrginie. Avec quatre kttres d'un bourgeois de New Haven (Historical and political research on the United States of North America . . . by a citizen of Virginia. With four letters from a townsman of New Haven), ed. Filippo Mazzei (4 vols., Paris, 1788), IV, 213.

of the Declaration of Independence. Further clarification of the reception of Amer- ican political concepts will be attained through the reading of the debates that started in the National Assembly during the summer of 1789 and that often referred to the American pre~edent.~

We will not dwell upon the continuous trend that accords to France, chronology notwithstanding, the virtue of having the preeminent revolution; nor shall we look closely at the weight of the American filiation, at the tradition of America as a "model," at the "borrowings" from and "influences" of one revolution on the other.* In reading through these debates and translations, we will focus on the travel of con- cepts and ideas and the way the American political philosophy and undertaking were understood by a French audience.

The First Translations

Until the Franco-American alliance treaty of 1778, which gave royal legitimacy to French enthusiasm for the new American republic, the first French translations of American documents were published anonymously outside the borders of France. To this day, the authorship of most translations printed before 1783 remains uncer- tain. Most frequently they have been attributed to a friend of Benjamin Franklin's, Louis-Alexandre, duc de La Rochefoucauld d'Enville, a descendant of the famous philosopher Alexandre de la Rochefo~cauld.~

?David P. Geggus, "The Effects of the American Revolution on France and Its Empire," in The Blnckwell Encyclopedia of theAmerican Revolution, ed. Jack I? Greene and J. R. Pole (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), 519; Marcel Gauchet, "Droits de l'homme" (Rights of man), in Dictionnaire critique de la rh~olutionfian~aise

(A critical dictio- nary of the French Revolution), ed. Fransois Furet and Mona Ozouf (Paris, 1988), 686. The debates of the National Assembly have never been published in their entirety. Most of them were transcribed from notes and published by the eighteenth-century periodical Le Moniteur (Paris), and again in the Archivex Parlementairei (Archives of parliament), ed. Jer8me Madival and Emile Laurent (Paris, 1862, 1875). For some of the most sig- nificant debates, see Fransois Furer and Ran Halevi, eds., Lei Orateztrs de la rhvolution finnfa2,e (Orators of the French Revolution) (Paris, 1989). Stephane Rials wrote that "the French and the American declarations are like twins." See Stephane Rials, La Dhclaration des droits de l'bomme et du citoyen (The declaration of the rights of man and the citizen) (Paris, 1988), 355-69. See also Denis Lacorne, "Essai sur le commerce atlantique des idees repub- licaines" (An essay on the Atlantic trade in republican ideas), in Les Politiqz~es dz~ rnirnktisrne institutionnfl: Lagreffe etle rejet (The politics of institutional mimicry: Graft and rejection), ed. Yves Mdny (Paris, 1993), 44-48; and the speeches by the French constituents Trophime-Gerard comte de Lally-Tollendal and Jean Joseph Mounier, in Furet and Halevi, eds., Orateurs de la rhvolutionfianfaise, 374-76, 883.

This reflection on influences and filiation is as old as the French Revolution itself. For the main historio- graphical debate, see Georg Jellinek, "La Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen" (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen), Revue dz~ droitpolitique et de la science politiqz~e (Paris), 18 (1902), 385- 400; and Emile Boutmy, "La Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen et M. Jellinek (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and Mr. Jellinek), Annales des sciencespolitiques (Paris), 17 (1902), 415-

43. For an argument that "there is an obvious filiation from the American to the French declarations, although the one is not a reproduction of the other," see Marcel Gauchet, La Rkolution des droits de l'bornrne (The revo- lution of the rights of man) (Paris, 1989), 54. For attempts, on the occasion of the French Revolution bicen- tennial in 1989, to revise the thesis of the exceptionalism of the French Revolution, see Lacorne, "Essai sur le commerce atlantique des idees republicaines"; Gauchet, Rhvolutioiz des droits de l'hornrne; and Rials, Dhclaration des droits de l'bornrne et du citoyen, 357. See also Christine Faurd, ed., Ce que dkclarer des droits veut dire: Histoires (What it means to declare rights: Histories) (Paris, 1997), 17-47; and Philippe Raynaud, "La Revolution amdricaine" (The American Revolution), in Dictionnaire critique de la rkvolution~anfaire, ed. Furet and Ozouf, 860-70.

CNRS, ed., "La Rhvolution amhricaine et I'Ez~rope" (The American Revolution and Europe), Colloques inter- nationaux du CNRs (Paris) (no. 577, 1979), 369-419. Several scholars infer from the duc de La Rochefou- cauld's signed translation of various constitutional documents that he was also the translator of the Declaration of Independence.

We have studied nine of these translations, including one that several twentieth- century French authors attribute to "Thomas Jefferson himselLn6 The earliest known translation was published in the Netherlands in one of the three French journals interested in American affairs, Nouvelles politiques publiLes b Leyde, ou Nouuelles extraordinaires de divers endroits, commonly known as the Gazette de Leyde. The next two translations were published in the Affaires de lxngleterre et de liAmkrique, a semi- clandestine periodical, advertised as printed in Antwerp but actually published in Paris and secretly subsidized by the comte de Vergennes, the French minister of for- eign affairs with whom Benjamin Franklin had been in contact. This periodical, overtly hostile to Great Britain, offered news about American and English events from 1776 onward. Each number contained a letter signed by a "Banquier de Lon- dres" (London banker), since identified as the above-mentioned duc de La Roche- foucauld d'Enville. In 1777, the Affaires published two different translations of the declaration and some of the state constitutions, translated by La Rochefoucauld, translations that had been completed with the allegedly "eager assistance of Ben- jamin Franklin."'

Subsequent translations did not need to be anonymous and clandestine, and they were openly sold in Paris. They were not included in periodicals but could now be found as parts of separate volumes. The authorship of the translations of the state constitutions, which were included in a book published in 1778 under the title of Recueil des loix constitutiues des colonies angloises, still remains problem- atic. It is attributed by Gilbert Chinard to a "mysterious and enterprising RPgnier" whose signature appears after a dedication to Benjamin Franklin. This collec- tion is also often attributed to La Rochefoucauld. Yet another publication, the Essais historiques sur la rkuolution de Mmkrique, two volumes published in Brus- sels in 1782 and authored by Michel RenP Hilliard d'Auberteui1 (one of Thomas

Wn these translations, Echeverria and Chinard are the most serious bibliographers. There is no indication of date or place in the translation systematically attributed to Jefferson in Rials, De'claration des droits de l'hornme et du citoyen, 492-95, nor in the following works, which repeat the attribution: Blandine Barret- Kriegel, Les Droits de l'bornrne et le droit naturel (The rights of man and natural right) (Paris, 1989), 107- 11; Gordon S. Wood, La Cre'ation de la rhpublique arne'ricaine (The creation of the American republic), trans. Fran- qois Delastre (Paris, 1991), 733-36; Carl N. Degler et al., Histoire des Etats-Unis. Lapratique de la de'rno- cratie (History of the United States: The practice of democracy), trans. Michel Deutsch (Paris, 1980), 649- 50; and the United States Information Agency (USIA) pamphlet, La DPclaration d'indipendance. La constitu- tion des Etats-Unis dlArne'rique (The Declaration of Independence. The United States Constitution) (n.p., n.d., no translator).

(Gazette de Leyde), Nouvelles politiques publikes 2L~eyde, ou Nouvelles extraordinaires de divers endroits (17601810), Aug. 30, 1776; Affaires de l'ilngleterre et de llArne'rique (1 1 vols., Anvers-Paris, 1776- 1779), Tome I, Cahier no. 7, 88-95; Tome IX, 169-77. Affaires de llAngleterre et de llArne'rique have been bound in eleven volumes; one set is at the John Carter Brown Librar): Providence, and a second at the Bibliothkque Nationale de France in Paris. Depending on the binding, the numbering of pages and format differ; some volumes are bound and pages num- bered by "cahiers," others by "tomes." We have used the set at the Bibliothkque Nationale (call number 2366Al). See Paul L. Ford, ?Iffaires de llAngleterre et de IlArne'rique," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 13 (1889), 222-26. See Peter M. Ascoli, "American Propaganda in the French Language Press during the American Revolution," in Re'uolution arne'ricaine et /Europe, ed. CNRS, 292-93; and Lemay, "Lafitau, Demeunier, and the Rejection of the American Model," 173. Chinard, "Notes on the French Translations," 90. It is not clear whether La Rochefoucauld was the translator of the declaration as well; see Denis Lacorne, LiTnvention de la re'publique. Le rnodi.le arne'ricain (The invention of the republic: The American model) (Paris, 1991), 79; Rials, De'claration des droits de l'hornrne et du citoyen, 357.

Jefferson's friends), contains translations of the state constitutions and the Decla- ration of Independen~e.~

In 1783, La Rochefoucauld finally published under his own name a translation of the American founding documents with the title Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis de IIAmkrique. This book, which had been revised by Franklin, provided for the first time the complete translations of all state constitutions as well as a translation of the declaration, and it seems to have been the main source for the members of the National Assembly. La Rochefoucauld's translations were then included in a series of articles about the United States of America as part of the Encyclopkdie mkthodique, published in 1784-1786 by Jean-Nicolas Dtmeunier, a private secretary of the king's brother, "Monsieur." These articles were republished in an expanded version in 1786 as an independent essay, Essai sur les Etats-Unis dIAmkrique, and again, under the title LiAmkrique indkpendante ou les dzfkrentes constitutions des treize prou- inces, in 1790 when DPmeunier worked as a member of the National Assembly. The articles by Dtmeunier (but probably not the translations) were revised by Jefferson at DCmeunier's request.l

The last translation to be here considered is found in the works on America by Filippo Mazzei, an Italian-born agent for Virginia in Europe and a close friend of Jefferson's. His Recherches historiques et politiques sur les Etats-Unis (which also included the marquis de Condorcet's famous Lettres d'un bourgeois de New Haven) was published in Paris in 1788 as a deliberate response to what he perceived as anti- American theses in writings such as those of the abbt de Mably, about whom Mazzei wrote that his "principles of government are opposed to true republican principle^."'^

[RCgnier] Reczteil des loix constitutiues des colonies angloises, confldJrkes sous la dkizomination d'Etats-Unis . . . Auxquelles on a joint les Actes d'lndhpendance, le ConfPdration [sic] &autres actes du Congr2s. . . de'die'd Monsieur le Docteur Franklin. A Philadelphie et se vend Li Paris, rue Dauphine (Collection of [he consrirurional laws of the English colonies, federated under [he name Unired States . . . togerher with the Declarations of Independence, [he Articles of Confederarion, and other acts of Congress . . . dedicared ro Dr. Franklin in Philadelphia and sold in Paris, rue Dauphine) (Paris, 1778), 3-6. See Chinard, "Nores on [he French Translarions," 94; and Echeverria, "French Publications of [he Declaration of Independence and the American Constiturions," 3 16- 17. Lacorne, Invention de la re'pz~blique, 78; Rials, Dhclaration des droits de l'bomme et du citoyen, 357. Michel Rend Hilliard d'Auberreui1, Emis historiques sur la re'volution dr IIAmkrique septentrionale. Brztxelles. Se trouve Li Paris . . . (Hisrorical essays on the revolution of northern America. Brussels. Found in Paris . . .) (2 vols., Brussels, 1782), 293-

301. See Julian I? Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (27 vols., Princeton, 1950- ), X, 3ff.

'Louis-Alexandre de La Rochefoucauld d'Enville, Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis de lIArnkrique, d Philadel- phie etse trouve ci Paris, 1783 (The constitutions of the thirteen United States of America, in Philadelphia and to be found in Paris, 1783) (Paris, 1783). Rials calls this publication "the 4rh edition of La Rochefoucauld's transla- tions," attributing the earlier anonymous translations to La Rochefoucauld. See Rials, De'claration des droits de l'bornme et du citoyen, 444, 49511. Jean-Nicolas Ddmeunier, Eizcyclope'die mithodique (A methodical encyclopedia) (4 vols., Paris, 1784- 1786), 11, 357-59; Jean-Nicolas Demeunier, Essai sur les Etats-Unis dIAme'rique (An essay on the Unired States of America) (Paris, 1786); Jean-Nicolas DCmeunier, LIAme'rique indPpendante ou les dzffe'rentes constitutions des treizeprovinces qui se sont e'rigkes en rPpubliques sous le nom d Eats-Unis de IIAme'rique (Independent America or the different constitutions of the thirteen provinces thar established themselves as republics under the name United States of America) (Ghent, 1790); Boyd, ed., Papers of Thornas Jefferson, X, 3-35; Lacorne, Invention de la rhpublique, 79-80, Lema): "Lafitau, Ddmeunier, and the Rejection of the American Model," 175.

'O Mazzei, ed., Recherches historiques etpolitiques sur les Etats-Unis, I, 245-52. Gabriel Bonnot, abbe de Mably, Observations sur legouvernement et les loi?c des Etats-Unis de 1IAme'rique du Nord (Observations on the government and laws of the United States of North America) (Amsterdam, 1784). Mably's book is described as written "very strictly from the point of view of the moralist." See Fay, Bibliographic critique des ouvragesfianfais relat8 aux Etats-Unis, 24.

One is struck by the fact that in the course of thirteen years the translation of the declaration was so frequently revised and rewrought. From one publication to the other, the translations of the constitutions were generally copied without any modi- fication from La Rochefoucauld's translations originally appearing in the Afaires de LIAngleterre et de LIAmkrique, but there are significant changes in the successive trans- lations of the Declaration of Independence itself. ''

Divergence or Misunderstandings? The Traveling of Ideas

The first striking difference between the original and the translations is to be found in the title, which appears in the French publications as having been translated, not from the engrossed and signed "Unanimous Declaration," but from the last version after it was revised by the Continental Congress; that version was sold as a broadside by the Philadelphia printer John Dunlap in July 1776 before the declaration was "unanimously" signed by the thirteen states. The translated title, though, resembles that of Jefferson's "rough draft," since, as in that draft, the preposition "of" in "A Declaration of the Representatives" was reproduced in five different translations by the French des in the title "Dtclaration des Reprtsentants." Other translators seem to have used the draft revised by John Adams, which read "A Declaration by the repre- sentatives," or else the copy that was submitted to Congress with the same title by the Committee of Five. We thus find, from one translation to the other, both French grammatical forms, des and par les, while the first translator rather awkwardly ren- dered the English title "A Declaration by" with the French wording "Dtclaration de lapart des reprtsentants" (Gazette de Leyde).I2

Although these variations are not important for an understanding of the title, they speak for the uncertainty of the channels by which the successive translators obtained the English version, while Franklin is supposed (without any proof) to be the one who transmitted Jefferson's first drafts to his French friends in Paris.13 The conjectures on these points leave open the examination of the translations them- selves. The translators seemed less concerned with the authenticity of their sources than with rendering a literal, even if clumsy, translation of ideas, which were then perceived as fundamental to inspire the French public. It is obvious from the writ- ings of the time that French learned opinion looked at the American founding texts as "usable matter," even more when the French revolutionary leaders themselves

'I See the thorough comparative study, Echeverria, "French Publications of the Declaration of Independence and [he American Consrirurions," 326-38.

l2 Julian Boyd, The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Ihrious Dra$s by Its Author (Princeton, 1945), 19-23; Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the His- tory of Political Ideas (New York, 1922); Carl Becker, La Dklaration di'ndPpendance (The Declaration of Indepen- dence), trans. Marie-France Berrrand and Marvin Holdt (Paris, 1967), 197-259; La Rochefoucauld, Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis; Mazzei, ed., Recherches politiqzles et historiques sur les Etats-Unis; Demeunier, Encyclopt'die rne'thodique.

IZAmain source, ar least for La Rochefoucauld's translarion and for that in [he Affaires de 1lAngleterre et de IXmkrique, was The Rernernbrancer; or, Impartial Repository of Public Events, printedfor John Almon; reprintedfiorn newspapers and other articles relating to the American Revolution (1775; London, 1782); see Echeverria, "French Publicarions of [he Declararion of Independence and [he American Consrirurions," 316.

undertook to institutionalize the nouveau rtgime and adopt a declaration of rights that would help crystallize and perpetuate the revolutionary accomplishment.

The differences in American and French sociopolitical conditions and in the revo- lutionary movements themselves, however, accentuated the intellectual gap existing between France and America before 1789. The degree of divergence between the original English document and its French translations may be approached through three paradigms: universalism and particularism, the conception of politics and gov- ernment, and the dual understanding of rights-whether natural or positive.

Universalism and Particularism

The concept of universalism is naturally at work in any translation process, as trans- lating is a substitute in the absence of a universal language. This absence is even more strongly felt in a case involving two revolutions, each of which encompasses the dialectics of universal brotherhood and national interest. Such is Jefferson's pre- amble to the Declaration of Independence, which swiftly shifts from the universal history of "human events" to the peculiar situation of "one people" that has to face "the opinions of mankind" and then justifies its independence by asserting that "all men" (or "mankind") are "endowed" with "unalienable Rights." There is no better


English key-word for universality than "mankind," but there are no ideas more pecu- liar to the British colonies than the specific grievances enumerated in the second and longest part of the declaration, and there can be no more specifically nationalistic references than those invoking the "Brittish brethren" of the colonists, their "com-


mon kindred," and "consanguinity" ties with British subjects.

The French translators and the revolutionaries themselves were acutely aware of the ambivalence arising from the confrontation between universal claims and nationalist or patriotic assertions. Like Thomas Jefferson, his American contempo- raries thought that "it [was] impossible not to be sensible that we [were] all acting for mankind." On the other hand, French revolutionaries, paving the way for othei European revolutions and for French expansion as well as for historiographical inter- pretations, saw in their own actions and declarations a universal message that was the bearer of profound changes for world history. When drafting their own declara- tion of rights and constitution, the French National Assembly members thought


that their own situation, as a "regenerated people," led them to surpass the American example in formulating universal principles.'"

'dThon~asJefferson ro Joseph Priesrley June 19, 1802, as quoted by Albert Blaustein, "The Influence of the Unired States Constirurion Abroad," in Forzij, lr trmpj dri Coi~jtitutiows (Focus, the era of consrirurions), ed. Ambassade des Erars-Unis en France (Paris, 1987), 49; Michel Vovelle, "De I'AmbiguPr6 des modeles. La Rivolu- rion franqaise devant I'hisroire er dans I'imaginaire" (On the an~bi~u~ty

of models. The French Revolut~on In his- tory and in imagination), ibid, 13. Most declarations of righrs and constiturions adopted in Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenrh centuries were modeled on the French declarations of 1789, 1791. and 1795 rarher than on the 1776 American one. In 1790 a member of the National Assembly said, "The American laws only build the constiturion for one particular member of char society bur the Declaration of rhe [French] Narional Assembly prorects the rights of every man under every government." See [Svlvain Marichal, ed.,] L'Anzi de la re'volution (The friend of the Revolution), quoted by Gaucher, RPvolution des droits de l'homme, 57.

It is clear from the earliest French translations of the Declaration of Indepen- dence that the French liberals were more struck by the universalist character of its preamble than by the more particular list of grievances. Although translations of the preamble vary from one another and tend sometimes to distance themselves some- what from the original meaning, the preamble was the part of the declaration that was considered usable and was admired by the French elite. Given the often awk- ward style in French and the actual departure of some French phrases and words from the English version, the paragraphs naming the grievances and even the final two, which more precisely announce the formation of independent states, were clearly perceived as-so particular to the specific condition of the American colonies and their British intellectual and political backgrounds that they were not literally or even approximately translatable into French.

At the time when the first translations were made, however, the translators could not escape the universal meaning of the key-word "mankind," which appears three times in the document of July 4, 1776. As powerful-and familiar-as it seems, only three translations out of the nine under consideration rendered its first occur- rence literally by the French phrase genre humain. The first known translation, that of the Gazette de Leyde, and the later Essais historiques sur la rkuolution de l2mhique of Hilliard d'Auberteuil use the wording des hommes, a plural form that includes male and female genders, whereas the awkward phrases du reste des hommes (the rest of men) or de tout le reste des hommes appear in the two successive publications of the newspaper AJgSlires de l2ngleterre et de l2me'~ique and in Hilliard d'auberteuil's translation for "the rest of mankind." The pseudo-Jefferson translation uses humanitk, whose original and most frequent usage in the eighteenth century derives from the Latin biological meaning of man as a species.15

For the second occurrence of "mankind" ("mankind are more disposed to suf- fer"), most French writers, perhaps guided by the plural form of "mankind are," chose les hommes (men), while they translated the third and last reference to "man- kind" (in "the rest of mankind") by the recurring le reste des hommes. This last French wording rather weakens the meaning of what in the Founding Fathers' document is a generic and abstract word pointing to the collective body of men and women as a whole. While the singular form l'bomme refers, like the first meaning of humanitk, to the species, the plural form les hommes conveys in the French language a more con- crete and numerable object: you can count how many "men" there are in the world, but there is no numerical understanding of such a monad as "mankind." Through- out the nine eighteenth-century translations studied, the word hommes ("men") appears to be the one preferred by the French translators. It seems that they were re- luctant to use abstract words, or, as the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and


the Citizen will show, French thinkers conceived such a declaration, even though


expressing universal feelings and universal rights, to be more explicitly aimed at men in civil society than at those in a state of nature, where a general human species

liFor the meaning of humanitb, see Emile Lirrre, Dictionnuire de In lnnguejan~aise (7 vols., Paris, 1958), s.v. "11umanirC."

could be apprehended as such. Besides, as the 1789 debates in the French National Assembly made clear, the American former colonists were "so young a people" that only they could still think in terms of natural men. After the marquis de Lafayette had proposed a version of a declaration of rights highly inspired by the American model, the assembly member Trophime-GCrard, comte de Lally-Tollendal, exclaimed, "Please ponder the enormous difference existing between a new [naissant]people re- cently born to the universe, a colonial people breaking away from a distant govern- ment, and an ancient people."16

Many of the delegates insisted that the French antique people had to deal with historical traditions and former positive laws, which required the revolutionaries to think directly in terms of a civil society. By contrast, said the pastor Jean-Paul Rabaut de Saint-Etienne, a delegate from the south of France, Americans had bro- ken "the ties with a distant mother country; they were a new people who destroyed everything in order to rebuild everything anew.""

There is a contradiction in the way French readers and translators apprehended the American declarations and constitutions. On the one hand, the universal idea of natural rights was understood and accepted as a general principle. On the other hand, the French translators and the revolutionaries envisioned the American people as "new men," enjoying their "primitive sovereignty . . . in the bosom of nature," as the delegate Pierre-Victor Malouet declared, and belonging to a nation considered so recent that, in the Affaires de lxngleterre et de IIAm&rique of 1777, the translator changed "United States" into Colonies-unies in the title of the declaration.18 What the National Assembly members understood from the Declaration of Independence was that the American people had just started to build their nation by "dissolv[ing]," as the last paragraph says (dissoudre was used in only one translation), or rather breaking (romprewas most often chosen to translate "dissolve"), their ties with their mother country.

By these slight changes of words in the translations, the nationalistic tone of the Declaration of Independence became more visible, especially to those contem- porary French debaters who were trying to make use of it in their own context. Too universalist or too close to the "primitive" state of nature according to some, too particular to one nation and to different circumstances according to others, the American declaration was deemed unfit for the French National Assembly to copy. Not so the Virginia Bill of Rights, which was more often considered as rep- resenting a common body of thoughts and principles about natural rights and government, both because it was included in a constitutional document and because it contained a list of precise enumerated rights, which paradoxically made it more

'Trophime-Gerard, colnte de Lally-Tollendal, "Premier discours sur 1'1 dkclararion des droirs de I'homme" (First speech on rhe Declararion of the Rights of Man), in Archiuesparlementaires, ed. Madiva1 and Laurenr, le SPrie, \'III, 221. For orher examples of this political conceprion, see Pierre-Victor Malouet, ibid, 322-23; Gauchet, RPuob~tion des droits de l'hornrne, 75. See the "Proposed Declarations of Righrs Drawn by the Marquis de Lafayetre and by Dr Richard Gem," in Papeis of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Boyd, XIV, 438-39.

17Jean-Paul Rabaut de Saint-Erienne, Al~hiuesparlementaires,VIII 452. IS Malouet quoted by hals, DPclnration des dioits de l'bomrne et du citoyen, 367. Affaires de IIAngleterre et de l';lrnhrique, come I, cahier no. 7.

universal in tone than the "unalienable rights" "among" which Jefferson had chosen three to enumerate. l9

The People: From the Universal, to the Particular, to the Sovereign

Indeed, from the concept of "mankind," Thomas Jefferson's declaration shifts to the word "people," a word hf several meanings in both languages. The word "people," before the writing of the American Constitution, could designate citizens in their political capacity as well as settlers in a geographic entity; it had to be specified in French and was commonly translated by Xmkricains, " "babitans," or 'kitoyens" or even replaced by the pronoun nous (we) according to its place in the text, thus weak- ening again the universalist scope of the American document. When translated into the Frenchpeuple, "people" could sound like the exact synonym of "mankind," but the translators rarely used peuple in this context. Rather, they used %n peuple" when meaning the members of a nation, such as in the phrase 'Ye dessein de rkduire unpeuple" ("a design to reduce them"); it was more specific than the pronoun in Jefferson's for- mulation, which was used to avoid the repetition of "mankind."

The main reason why the translators had trouble with the word "people" is that, in the political language of late-eighteenth-century French, peuple came to be heavily loaded with political references and to bear a narrower range of meaning than in the American apprehension of the word. In spring 1789, the Tiers-Etat (third estate, after the nobility and the clergy), which AbbP Emmanuel-Joseph SieyPs declared to be la nation, was the bourgeois and plebeian part of the French population; it had just endowed itself with the national power of government. As if anticipating the French Revolution and distancing themselves from American colonial history, transla- tors of the American Declaration of Independence stressed geographical implications and translated "large districts of people" by apolitical wordings such as 'Yes habitans" or

'Yes habitans de cepays," rather than by Yespeuples," which is present in only one transla- tion and which more closely resembles the American "people." We can also think that the reason for choosing Amkrique to render "this country" and "Colonies amkricaines" for "these Colonies" or "these States" was aimed not only at facilitating the understanding of the text by a French reader not well informed about the Anglo-American conflict but also at pointing out the particular setting of the American Revolution and the adop- tion of the Declaration of Independence in a particular area of the earth.20

l9 For transl~~rions

of the Virginia Bill of Righrs into French, see La Rochefouca~ld,Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis; Mazzei, ed., Recherchespolitiques et historiqz~es szlr les Etats-Unis. Both are based on rhe first drafr of June 1, 1776, which originally contained eighteen arricles. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, whose trans- lations were never used direcrly in the drafting of the French Declaration of the Righrs of Man and rhe Citizen, two of rhese articles served as sources for arricles VIII and X of the French declaration. See Chinard, "Notes on the French translations," 98- 108.

"'Mazzei, an Italian-born "citizen of Virginia," was aware of rhe difficulty of translaring the phrase "rhe people." Introducing his French translarion of rhe Virginia Bill of kghrs, he wrore: "lorsqubn dit lepeuple de Erginie, lepeuple de Pennsylvanie etc., on entend les habitans dont ilskgit et de mime on dit indiffiremment les citoyens, les hnbitans ou 1epez~- ple des Etats-Unii' (When the word people of Virginia, of Pennsylvania erc., is used, ir means inhabitants; similarly, one can indifferently say rhe citizens, the inhabitants, or the people of rhe United Srates). See Mazzei, ed., Recigerches historiques etpolitiques sur les Etats-Unis, iv-\: Affaires de 12izgleten.e et de 12me'riqz~e, come I, cahier no. 7, tome IX.

In French, as well as in English, lepeuple can mean either a specific people, subject to or victim of external causes and events, or a general, hence universal, expression of the Rousseauist "general will." Finally, peuple was conceived as an agent of history, and eventually a general sovereign, and then was translated from the English plural into the French singular form (as in "He has refused . . . those people . . . a right ines- timable to them," translated as "Il a refuse'. . . le Peuple . . . un droit inestimable pour le Peuple," "people" being changed from the lower case in English to a capital initial in French). Similarly, by simply translating "Legislative Powers . . . have returned to the People at large" into 'Y'autorite' lkgislatrice . . . est retourne'e au Peuple, "the word Peuple meant in itself the body of the citizens. "People" could also be considered a collection of individuals, as when it was translated by "concitoyens"(fellow citizens or co~ntrymen).~'

Looking back from this reading of the translation to the original text, we see bet- ter how the English word "people" moved in Jefferson's own declaration from a posi- tion where the people were victims, subject to "suffer," to one in which they became actors taking hold of their own sovereignty. The evolving position and meaning of the word "people" as Jefferson used it in the original text are all the more noticeable through its parallel use in French. During the collective writing of the Cahiers de DolCances (lists of grievances) in response to the summons of the first Rtunion des Etats-GCnCraux (meeting of the estates-general) in 175 years, and at the first meet- ing of the National Assembly in the spring of 1789, the wordpeuple was used with the strong political meaning of the appropriation of the nation as a civil society and then of the appropriation of political sovereignty by one class of the French popula- tion. It is striking that the word "nation," absent from Jefferson's declaration, does not appear in any of the translations, which were not otherwise strictly faithful to the orig- inal; at the same time, the proper noun Ame'rique, which comes up in the English ver- sion only in the final paragraph to quali@ the "United States of America," is frequently introduced as a noun or as the adjective 'Xmkricain" in all the translations. This inno- vation introduces a distance between the French reader and the translated text and ren- ders the Declaration of Independence all the more foreign to the French public.

Government, Power, and Sovereipty

It was even more difficult to translate literally the parts of the Declaration of Inde- pendence that dealt with the idea of government and sovereignty. Throughout the list of grievances, the word "power" (translated sometimes as 'puissance"),the phrase "a free people" ('hipeuple libre"), and phrases referring to the idea of sovereignty sounded different in the French and American contexts. The French, living under a monarchical regime until 1792, did not easily conceive of a republic born out of a complete break, as the Americans had just experienced it. The French revolutionaries had to adapt a new system of government to an "ancient" nation while empowering the "people" with the sovereign essence of the "nation" formerly held exclusively by the king.

21 La Rochefoucauld, Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis.

Another difficulty for French readers and translators of the American texts was the continuity of the English and American judicial and political tradition. The British inherited conceptions of power, as they had been bequeathed by British cul- ture, remained opaque to French translators. Furthermore, as recent analysts have shown, the French revolutionaries could not, as the Americans had done, envisage a separation of powers as in the Montesquieu model, nor could they accept distribut- ing the power of legislation into two houses.22 French sovereignty was to be "one and indivisible" in order for the people to retain its power and create new rights. Among the state constitutions, the Pennsylvania constitution, with its unicameral legislature, was thus the most praised by the French revolutionaries.

Moreover, the translators and readers of American founding documents had trou-


ble comprehending how the American republic was to function over such a large ter- ritory and how thirteen colonies were to transform themselves into an Epluribus unum federal state. Although most of the translations reproduced the various


"states" by the French word "hat," some of them translated "these states" by "Ce pays"


(this country), a more unified conception of a nation-state than the American plu- rality of governments or provinces would indicate. The same uneasiness over the Anglo-American conception of the law of the land or of common law appears in the way the ideas conveyed by the words "form of government" or "judiciary powers," as enunciated in Jefferson's declaration, are weakened when translated into such forms as '$st2me de gouvernement" or 'tribunaux" (courts) -a restricted meaning of "judi- ciary powers."23 More could be said about the divergence between such concepts as "power" and puissance or autoritd or about the divergent understanding of such a word as "governor," which in the French gouverneur conveys a much stronger and more abstract meaning of sovereignty than in America, where "governors" had been and continued to be, after independence, mere magistrates exercising a delegated executive power.

More generally, the way the list of grievances was translated does not account for the idea of the Lockean contract embedded in the American document. Even the phrase "when a long train of abuses and usurpations," which in the English- especially the Lockean-tradition implies a breach of contract, could not be understood as such by translators and readers who were immersed in French culture and history. A French reader of those eighteenth-century translations did not necessarily understand that the king's mischiefs were abuses of his prerog- atives in the English tradition of a constitutional king, nor even in the philosophy of the baron de Montesquieu, which was more a model for American constitu- tion makers than for the French ones. The reader would only retain the threat of "absolute Tyranny," but he would not associate it with the French Enlighten- ment idea of contrat social, a nonconditional and egalitarian contract among the people at large and conducing to a sovereign government in the Rousseauist sense.

22 Gaucher, RPuob~tion des droits de l'bomme; Furet et HalPvi, eds., Omtezm de In ~hvolz~tionfran~nise,

ix-xcvii; Keith Baker, "Consriturion," in Dirtionnaire critique de la re'uol~tionfian~aise,

ed. Furer and Ozouf, 535-42. 23 La Rochefoucauld, Constitz~tionsdes treize Etnts-Unis.

Nature's God, Rights of Nature, Rights of Man

Finally, the big difference lay in the rights that the American former colonists sought to preserve, while the former French subjects had to create them, not out of a state of nature, but through the establishment of a man-made and radically new civil soci- ety. It is clear that the French liberals and revolutionaries could not identify them- selves with the Declaration of Independence, which, in its list of grievances, proved that the American Revolution was sparked by the violation of exz<ting rightsby the king of England (rights of the Englishmen); the post-feudal French had to assert completely new rights in a radically transformed society.

While Jefferson, when including God as the generator of rights, is supposed by Morton White to have followed Jean Jacques Burlamaqui's conception of a creator God who imparted to men "primitive rights," there are several reasins why the phrase "Nature's God" was suppressed from four of the translations of the Declaration of Independence and translated once by Ye Mahe Supr2me qui la gouverne" (the Supreme Lord who governs it). One reason may be the desire to improve the style, which is often redundant& the English document.'i Another reason may- be the peculiar form of late- eighteenth-century French deism, rather than an improbable atheistic outlook among the French translators-since Dieu and la Providence (God and Providence) appear fur- ther along in the translations. Indeed, in the French intellectual context of the revolu-


tionary era, "laws of nature" ceased to be attributed to God's will but pertained to material phenomena. Rtghts of man, which were discussed at length during the sum- mer of 1789, referred more to positive rights than to natural rights, although the idea of rights of nature and of natural law had not yet been completely abandoned. Even now, tie acceptance of natural rights remains pe&ive, although nobody any longer envisions a genesis of rights rooted in a hypothetical state of nature prior to society. The question was confusedly discussed at the National Assembly in 1789, with no definite answer.

Unlike the other revolutionary concepts, the French notion of "rights of man" is more easilv a~~rehended

i II in the translations of the declaration themselves than in the debates of the National Assembly. From the translations in which the reference to "Nature's God" was omitted, we can infer that the French educated public did not rely, as the Americans clearly did at the time, on rights originating in nature, but on man-made society and rights and on the social and political laws established by "sys- tems of g~vernment."~~

24 Morton Whire, The Philosophy of the Anzerican Revolution (New York, 1978). 225. The four rranslarions are: La Rochefouc~~uld, Constitzitions des treize Etats-Unis; Mazzei, ed., Recherches historiyues etpolitiyues SUT les Etats- Unis; [RCgnier], Recueil des loix constitutiues des colonies angloises; Hilliard d'Auberreui1, Essnis historiqzles sur la rho- lution de IIAmhrique. Gazette de Leyde uses Maitre supr$me for "Nature's God." French critics of the American dec- laration and its rranslations observe rightly thar the Jefferson text contained many reperirions and thar rhe style of the French declaration was somewhat clearer. See Boutm!; "D6claration des droits de I'homme er du citoyen et M. Jellinek," 426.

25T\vo different conceptions of righrs coexisted in French eighteenth-century culture: "civil rights," "which are determined by men's rights," and "natural rights," which belong to natural law; see Barret-Kriegel in Droits de l'homme et le droit naturel, 72. On the theories of righrs enunciated by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyks, Honor6 comre de Mirabeau, and Jean-Joseph Mounier, see Rials. Dhclaration des droits de l'homme et dz~ citoyen, 385-94. White, Philosophy of the American Revolz~tion, 142-229; Lucien Jaume, Les Dhclamtions des droits de l'homme (The declara- tions of the rights of man) (Paris, 1989), 43-46; Gaucher, RPvobtion des droits de l'homme, 24.

Even more revealing of the difference between French and American conceptual networks is the meaning given to Jefferson's enumerated rights: How are "Life," "Liberty," and the "pursuit of Happiness" understood and translated? From the many debates at the National Assembly, it appears that even the word "life" was not plainly conceived in the same range of rights as se'curite', which means preservation of life, and existence, which refers to the appropriation of one's self in the physical and social sense. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of July and August 1789, whose inspiration was in part the Virginia Bill of Rights, stated that the "natural, unalienable and sacred rights" (Yroits naturels, inaliknables et sacre's") are "liberty, security, property, and resistance to oppression" ("la liberte', la skcurite', la proprie'te' et la re'sistance h Ibppression ") . In 1793, the "natural and impre- scriptible rights" were said to be "equality, liberty, security, and property"; no men- tion of the concise but vague word "life" was made in those declarations, although the Virginia Bill of Rights specifically mentions "enjoyment of life and liberty," liter- ally translated by La Rochefoucauld as jouir de la vie. None of the translations of the declaration changed the wording of "life" or "liberty." None gave to "pursuit of hap- piness" the meaning of "property," although we know from the objection made by Lafayette to Jefferson, and from the French declarations, that "happiness" was in sev- eral instances transformed into "property."

"Pursuit of Happiness," the third natural right enumerated by Jefferson and still the most controversial one, was understood and translated in ways that spoke per- fectly for the inner contradictions of the Enlightenment and the revolutionary era. "Happiness," one of the most significant concepts of the Enlightenment, could be understood in French as well as in English as mere material satisfaction in the rather negative sense of absence of disease, poverty, and oppression. Four out of the nine eighteenth-century translations obviously chose this sense and replaced the word "happiness" (literally bonheur in French) by "bien-e^tre" (well-being). At the same time, the word "pursuit" (most often "recherche") was rendered three times by Ye'sir" (desire), a subjective, even intimate feeling, lacking the dynamic sense inherent in the English "pursuit" and the French recherche.26We thus find in these translations a definite shift from the Jeffersonian global, diffuse sense of a right to the pursuit of happiness to a more precise individual right to an easier, more felicitous life.

But the translations may be misleading. Their authors, as well as other writers of the time, had very complex and sometimes contradictory ideas about what they meant by happiness. Mazzei, for instance, who translated "the pursuit of happiness" by recherche du bien-&re, loaded his idea of happiness with a weighty meaning: in the introduction to his book on the constitutions of America, he reflected that "the pur- suit of happiness was the main and prior right to be considered." His view of the "pursuit of happiness," however, came to be quite distinctive; unlike Jefferson, who spoke of the natural right of individuals to pursue their happiness, Mazzei alluded to

2"ee the classic work, Robert Mauzi, LYdie du bonheur dans la littirature et lapen~iefian~aises

au XVIIIe siPcle (The idea of happiness in eighteenth-century French literature and thought) (Paris, 1994).Affaires de l'ilngleterre et de l'ilme'rique, tome I, cahier no. 7, tome IX; [Rignier], Recueildes loix constitutives des colonies anglaises; Mazzei, ed., Recherches historiques etpolitiqzles sur les Etats-Unis.

some external agent that would work for the happiness of man: "Lapremihre itude de l'homme devrait &re celle qubn niglige le plus; elle devrait consister h chercher son bonheur" (The first study of man should be that which is most neglected; it should consist in looking for his happiness). There appears another question inherent in the Enlightenment that would be central to revolutionary thought. Is the right to happiness a collective or an individual right? This distinction does not appear in the translations of the declaration but is clearly in the background. The marquis de Condorcet best expressed the general political culture of late-eighteenth-century France. In 1788, refusing to take "pursuit of happiness" in its general and abstract meaning, Condorcet showed himself perhaps more Lockean than Jefferson was:

Considered as a bodF a nation is an abstract being; it can be neither happy nor unhappy. Thus, when the happiness of a nation is spoken of collectively, it must be understood either as the average value of the happiness or unhappiness of indi- viduals, or as consisting in the general means of happiness, that is, the tranquillity and well-being offered to the citizens as a whole by the soil, laws, industry, and relations with foreign nation^.^;

This debate, which was to continue during the nineteenth and twentieth centu- ries, started with the contrasting conceptions of happiness as expressed by Con- dorcet and by the authors of the second Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1793, which stated, "The aim of society is collective happiness. Govern- ment is established to guarantee mankind the enjoyment of his natural and impre- scriptible rights" ("Le but de la socie'te'est le bonheus commun. Legouvernement est institue' pour garantir h l'homme la jouissance de ses droits natureh et imprescriptibles"). Translators of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Bill of Rights did not address the debate over an individual or a collective right to the pursuit of happiness. They were content to render what they thought was the spirit of the texts in a style as faithful to the original texts and as elegant and accessible to a French reader as possible.

They did not always succeed, given the difficulty of rendering English phrases into equivalent French ones. For instance, in the last sentence of the declaration, the phrase "our sacred Honor," which sounds so solemn in English, is considerably weakened by the French inversion of "sacred" and "honor" in 'izotre honneur sacrk, '" even when it is stressed, as in "notre honneur leplus sacre'. "At the same time, the pro- noun "We," preceding "therefore," is much stronger than the French grammatical mode 'En conse'quence, nous. "28 The translators certainly did not willingly weaken the meaning of the American Declaration of Independence when changing the respective positions of nouns and adjectives. It is interesting, however, that the changes took place in those sections of the declaration where the Americans spoke as a par- ticular people in declaring their principles and resolutions. As we have seen, when translating the more universal parts of the Declaration of Independence, the French translators were less unfaithful to the original intent.

'-Mazzei, ed., Recherches historiques etpolitiqzles sur les Et~zts-Unis, I, iii; Condorcet, I~$ueiice de la re'uolutiovz, ibid.,IV, 238.

*"a Rochefoucauld, Constitutions des treize Etirts-Unis.

"An example [no longer] too distant from us": The Nineteenth-Century French Image of the American Founding Documents

After the 1848 French Revolution, the liberal pro-American writer Edouard Laboulaye looked back at the late-eighteenth-century French image of the American Revolution and contrasted it with the current nineteenth-century admiration for American revolu- tionary documents: "America was then an example too distant to be of any use for us; the state of both societies was not the same; their needs, their desires, their aims were different. . . . [In France] today, democracy reigns; no more king, nor privileges; the country is its own master; there is no more need to destroy; only to f re ate."^'

Indeed, after the tumultuous Napoleonic era, French opinion was divided between leftist pro-revolutionaries and a conservative Right who only stressed the failures of the French revolutionary period. In relationship to America, French opin- ion followed the course of revolving French politics, including two revolutions (1 830 and 1848) and four different regimes (two monarchical governments, alter- nated with two republican governments, the last of which continued until 1940). Nevertheless, leftist and rightist contemporaries were not clearly aligned as to their views of the American model: one could find americanophiles among liberals as well as among reactionaries.

The French liberal revolution of 1830 coincided with the administration of Andrew Jackson in the United States, providing the ground for a renewed interest in American democratic creeds and sympathy from a large fraction of the French opin- ion, called by RenP Rkmond "the American school."" The opposite side interpreted the American Revolution and the ensuing republic as exemplifying the anarchy that comes out of what was thought of as universal suffrage and the throes of revolutions.

The nineteenth century witnessed a particular interest in the universal scope of American independence. Until his death in 1834, the marquis de Lafayette was at once the proponent and the hero of a new cult of America: "The Fourth of July was not only [considered] as the national anniversary of a people of merchants and farmers settled on the other side of the Atlantic, it was the beginning of a new era for the whole world." It is therefore all the more surprising that the Declaration of Independence itself was hardly ever translated or reproduced during the nineteenth century. Furthermore, for no apparent reason, nobody claimed the authorship of these rare translations. In several cases, the few sentences that were quoted by commentators were those relating to the question of rights, the only aspect deemed important enough to consider, the "rest being, after all," as Auguste Carlier remarked, "nothing but a long enumeration of grievances against the English government and against the English themselves."3'

*'Edouard Laboulaye, De la Constitution ame'ricaine et de l'utilite' de son itude (Of the American Constitution and the advantage of studying it) (Paris, 1850), 20. 30 Reni Remond, Les Etats-Unis devant lbpinionfian;aise, 1815-1852 (The United States in French opinion, 1815-1852) (Paris, 1962).

"Ibid., 521. One of the rare translations was published in Adam Seybert, Annalesstatistiques des Etats-Unis (Statistical annals of the United States), trans. C. A. Scheffer (Paris, 1820). See also Xavier Eyma, La Re'publique amhir- aine. Ses institutions, ses hommes (The American republic: Its institutions, its men) (2 vols., Paris, 1861), I, 131 -34). Part of the preamble was translated in Auguste Carlier, La R@z~blique ame'ricaine (4 vols., Paris, 1890), I, 464.

By contrast, in the late nineteenth century, the reactionary Hippolyte Taine hailed the "precision" of the American founding documents, which set the ground for "pos- itive prescriptions," as opposed to the "philosophical gospel and uncontested cate- chism" contained in the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the


Citizen. Ironically, Taine stood at the exact opposite of his contemporary, the above- quoted Carlier, who acknowledged the "philosophical preamble of the American Declaration of Independence where the prime principles of society are invoked," although he found them "false in every respect," as they stood in contradiction to an unequal society that excluded blacks and Indians.j2

he nineteenth-century approach to the Declaration of Independence was thus largely focused on the question of equality. After the liberal revolution of 1830, French political and philosophical debates centered on questions pertaining to the reform of social and political structures. In this context, the American Revolution was used as an exampie of errors to be avoided, both by those who feared what they perceived as an egalitarian political and social system and by those who denounced black slavery and Indian spoliation and exclusion.

One of the americanophiles of the mid-nineteenth century, Xavier Eyma, who was interested in the exotic image of American blacks and ~ndians and published a vast ethnographic children's literature on the subject, included one of the only com- plete translations of the Declaration of Independence in his work on the American republic. The language in this translation is in our eyes much more fluent and mod- ern than that of the eighteenth-century ones. The author as a historian was obvi- ously familiar with the imperial British-American conflict that led to the Declaration of Independence. The colonists' grievances in all their details do not appear con- trived, and they make as much sense as they did in the original. Yet the stylistic ease of the translator has led him to some misinterpretations; he writes "des localitks . . . kloignkes du centre de leurx afaires publiques" (places . . . distant from the center of their public affairs) for "places . . . distant from the depository of their Public Records," and he provides the restrictive "lespouvoirs lkgislatzj . . . ont rendu aupeu- ple deplus grands droits" (the Legislative Powers . . . have given to the people enlarged rights), instead of "the Legislative Powers . . . have returned to the People at large."33

Other authors interested in American affairs merely quoted a few words from the declaration but systematically stressed its importance as the instigator of the first modern republic. The French of 1848, caught as they were between their revolu- tionary heritage and their current aspirations, carefully studied and even taught the institutional example offered by the birth of the American republic and its constitu- tional network. Most writings and translations of the American documents reflect opinions closer to those of the American Federalists than those of the former French

"Hippolyre Taine, Les Origines de LIZ France contempornine (The origins of contemporary France) (1875- 1881; 3 vols., Paris, 1986), I, 461; Carlier, Rc'pnblique amiricaine, I, 464-65. France abolished slavery in the French colonies in 1793 and, after Napoleon reestablished it, waited ~tntil 1848 to suppress it permanently. The orators of the French National Assembly had not even mentioned the ambiguity of the American declaration in this respect.

33 Eyma, Ripublique amdricaine, I, 13 1-32.

Jacobin revolutionaries: The mid-nineteenth-century French now appreciated the moderation of the American Revolution by comparison with the French one, saw the 1787 Constitution as a salutary solution to the possible weakness of indepen- dent American states, and admired the strength of the federal government. In 1850, Edouard Laboulaye enthusiastically hailed the American republic as being "more like a democracy, the queen of the world." Nineteenth-century French historians, as readers of The Federalist, translated the 1787 Constitution more often than the state constitutions. The American Constitution was deemed "the immortal work of the likes of Franklin, Adams, and Wa~hington."~~

The model commentary is, of course, Alexis de Tocqueville's De la De'moc~atie en Ame'rique (Democracy in America), a book written mainly as the basis for a reflec- tion upon the French political future. Tocqueville has been sufficiently studied, espe- cially by American authors, for us not to need to dwell on his work. He devoted one long chapter to the federal Constitution, but there is no room in his work for the Declaration of Independence; the Revolution is treated in one small paragraph, probably less because he was no historian than because this subject did not fit his present purpose.35

Tocqueville's book on America has long been a greater source of inspiration for the American public than for the French one. In France, its appeal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries largely depended upon contemporary political circumstances. American democracy as it was analyzed by Tocqueville was, as we know, related to his conception of a future French regime, and it masked an underlying reevaluation of the French Revolution of 1789. After his De la De'mocratie en Ame'rique, Tocqueville directly addressed the history of the French ancien rtgime and the Revolution, showing that his wide philosophical reflection really concerned French political and social issues. His two books are complementary. Through his analysis of American democracy, described as an inherently egalitarian and pacified American society, already looms, by contrast, the criticism he addresses to the excesses of the French eighteenth-century events. Because of the special intent of his book, the French public diverged in its appreciation of Tocqueville's ideas. After the advent of the French Third Republic, when the constitutional laws of 1875 were

"Seven different translations of the Constitution were published between April and September 1848; see Rimond, Etats-Uiiis devant lbpinionfian;aise, 837. Laboulaye, De la Constitution ame'ricaine, 9- 10; Re'publique des Etats-Unis; Sa constitution et les divers amendements depuis son origine (The republic of the United States; Its Constitution and various amendments since its birth) (Paris, 1848); L. P Conseil, Me'langes politiques et philosophiqzies estraits des me'moires et de la correspondanre de Thomas Jefferson, price'de's . . . dime tiztdzlction de la Constitution (Political and philosophical miscellanies drawn from the memoirs and correspondence of Thomas Jefferson, preceded . . . by a translation of the Consritution) (Paris, 1833); Fabius Jalaber, Constitution des Etats-Uiiis d'Amirique, . . . se vend azlprojit des ouvriers sans travail (Constitution of the Unired States of Amer- ica . . . sold for the benefit of jobless workers) (Nantes, 1848). Passages of the Consritution were translated in Joseph Stor): Commentaire sur la coizstitutionpde'rale des Etats-Unis (translation of the 1833 Commentaries on the Constitzttion), trans. Paul Odent (Paris, 1843); Duc d'Ayen, Les Publicistes ame'ricains et la constitution des Etats-Unis (American publicists and the Constitution of the United States) (Paris, 1876); Carlier, Re)ubliqz~e avtze'ricaine.11.

3i For ;he very short discussion of the American Revolution (in chapter 4), headed "Du principe de la sou- veraineti du peuple en Ambrique" (On the principle of popular sovereignty in America), see Alexis de Tocque\~ille, De la De'mocriltie en Amhique (On democracy in America) (1832, 1835; Paris, 1952), 55.

adopted, the interest in Tocqueville's work faded, his book being almost totally ignored until the beginning of the Cold War.36

From Tocqueville, to Aron, to Furet; from Marx, to Mathiez, to Soboul:
The American Revolution and the Ideological Battles of the Twentieth Century

It is quite ironic that an interest in Tocqueville's reflections about American democ- racy and in American institutions and founding documents should reappear at a time when France, under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle (who denied any American influence upon French history), was somewhat estranged from the United States. At the moment when the sister republics grew apart, and especially when France declared its independence from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the American revolutionary model came back into French political debates about leftist revolutions, primarily the Bolshevik one and its "forerunner," the French Rev- olution of 1789- 1799. Thereafter, following the revisionist book by Fran~ois Furet and Denis Richet on the history of the French Revolution, a neoliberal trend of his- torians started to denounce the Terror as a rehearsal of the Leninist and Stalinist totalitarian Communist regime. Franqois Furet also showed the way in contrasting what was now perceived as a libertarian revolution in America with what was denounced as egalitarian in the French one.37

Until then, the "American school" of the nineteenth century had defended the American example. Early in the twentieth century, some scholars, among whom were Pierre de Noailles, Charles de Chambrun, and Emile Boutmy, followed a new course, insisting that each country was in its way exceptional. As a reply to Georg Jellinek in a famous controversy over the influence of the American founding docu- ments on French revolutionary thought, Boutmy asserted that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 was in no way indebted to the American Declaration of Independence or to the state bills of rights. Indeed, he saw both revolutions as the heirs of the Enlightenment. But he wrote that, unlike American eighteenth-century philosophy, the French Revolution did not follow on the Lockean idea of the civil compact, nor even on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's social contract.38

World War I was the occasion of a rapprochement between the two countries, to the point that Woodrow Wilson found the opportunity to use the American Decla- ration of Independence as an exact model for French republicanism. In 19 18, at the

3Vran~oiseMilonio, Tocqueville et lesfiangais (Tocqueville and the French) (Paris, 1993), 11; Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien regime et la re'volution (The ancien regime and the Revolurion) (Paris, 1856).

3-The title of this subsection draws on a 1988 statement by the French historian and publisher Pierre Nora that a trend of interpretation of the American Revolution, descending from "Montesquieu to Tocqueville to Raymond Aron," had recently replaced the trend from "Rousseau, to Marx, to Jean-Paul Sartre." See Pierre Nora, "Valeur universelle de la constitution des Erars-Unis: La France er l'experience americaine" (Universal value of the United States Constitution: France and the American experience), in Et la Constitution cre'a lIlilme'rique (And the Constitution created America), ed. Marie-France Toinet (Nanc): 1988), 23. Fransois Furer and Denis Richet, La K4uolt~tionJFangaise(The French Revolution) (Paris, 1973).

j8 See Jacq~tes Portes, Une Fascination riticente: Les Etats-Unis duns lbpinion JFangaise, 1870-1914 (A reluctant fascination: The United States in French opinion) (Nancy, 1990), 158-59; Boutmy, "Declaration des droits de I'homme," 419.

end of the war, Wilson addressed the French public; his speech was published together with bilingual versions of the American Declaration of Independence and of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. This publication, on a precious vellum paper, bore the names of the French and the English transla- tors. It is significant that both translations were made especially for the occasion.39 The French translation of the Declaration of Independence is clear, elegant in style, and generally more faithful to the English version than were the eighteenth-century ones. It was obviously meant as propaganda for American universalism and at the same time as a sign of friendship waved at the allied "rPpubIique des droits de I'homme." Wilson's subsequent failure to bring the United States into the League of Nations and sign the Treaty of Versailles may be one of the reasons why the Arneri- can model was neglected by French scholars for more than two decades. Between the two world wars, the prevailing image of the United States was that of an isolationist power.

After World War 11, the image became more ambivalent. In the generation that succeeded Jean Jaurks and Albert Mathiez, historians such as Georges Lefebvre and the Marxist historian Albert Soboul, considering that the American war for indepen- dence was not a real revolution, neglected it and enhanced the image of the French Revolution as the first model of true revolutions. This school of historians saw in the French Revolution a social, sometimes bourgeois, upheaval, while they deemed American independence at best a "political" revolution and contrasted it with "the total subversion of the political institutional and social order" embodied by the radi- cally "new and modern" French disruption. Any idea of comparison was thus unthinkable, and no reference was ever made by these historians to the American founding textse40

In parallel to these social historians, who were sometimes accused of occupying a hegemonic academic position and of imposing an interpretation of the "French Revolution as a whole" that accepted the Terror as a necessary follow-up to the 1789 upheaval, the former leftist Furet opened the way to revisionist writings on the French-and consequently the American-revolutions. Furet rediscovered some nineteenth-century historians, such as Augustin Cochin and Hippolyte Taine, who decried the violent social upheaval of the French Revolution after 1792 and con- trasted it with the American Revolution, which they described as a model of peace- ful and liberal revolution. Tocqueville's works, especially, were being read again, and that author appeared as a prophet announcing the dangers of totalitarian revolu- tions. Taking after Raymond Aron, Furet participated in a new French edition of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, and he heralded a return to the idea that the Declaration of Independence had had a French and world-historical impact.41

"France-Arnbrique-1776-1789-1917, Dhclaration d'inde'pendance. Dhclaratiou des Droits de I'Homme, 8-23.

Jean Jaurks, Histoire socialiste de la rhuolutionfiai~caise (Asocialist history of the French Revolution) (1904; Paris, 1968); Albert Mathiez, La Rhvolution fiancaise (The French Revolution) (2 vols., Paris, 1922); Georges Lefebvre, La Rhvolution fianqaise (The French Revolution) (Paris, 1951); Claude Mazauric, Sur la Rhvolution fianqaise (On the French Revolution) (Paris, 1970); Albert Soboul, Cornprendre la rhvolzttion (Understanding the Revolution) (Paris, 1981); Vovelle, "De I'ambiguYtC des modhles," 12.

4' Fran~ois Furet, Penser la rhvolutionfian~aise (Reflecting on the French Revolution) (Paris, 1978).

Coinciding with the disruption of Eastern European Communist regimes, the French bicentennial of 1989 triggered an immense production of publications, both popular and academic, on the French Revolution. In the wake of Furet's interest in American history, most authors now felt the need to pay tribute to the American rev- olutionary model. As a sign of this new approach, a book that is meant as an ency- clopedia of the French Revolution, the oft-quoted Dictionnaire critique de La rkvb~utionfian~aise, and

contains a whole article devoted to the American ~evofution to the impact of the Declaration of Independence on French revolutionary thought. Several historians who have recently edited the French revolutionary debates and documents have included translations of the American declarations and bills of rights as well.42

Only a few authors, however, undertook to provide a new translation of the Dec- laration of Independence itself. In the 1950s, authors of textbooks on American civ- ilization or American history had used the eighteenth-century translation by La Rochefoucauld. Later on, some authors reproduced the translation obtained by the French publisher of Carl Becker's study of the de~laration.~~

In the translation in Becker's book, the French text unfolds clearly; it is very close to the original wording, visibly so because it faces the English text and follows its meaning without many sig- nificant changes.

At the time of the French bicentennial, many editions of the British, French, and American revolutionary declarations and constitutions appeared. They contained no new translation of the Declaration of Independence. Several editors were content to reproduce, one after the other, the translation falsely attributed to "Jefferson him- self," without having searched, as we did-howeve; unsuccessfully!-for the very source of this pseudo-Jefferson translation. According to the United States Informa- tion Agency (USIA), which seems to have been the first to recirculate this text in the late twentieth century, the author is anonymous, and the date and place of first publication are left obscure. Moreover, Professor John Catanzariti, who is in charge bf the publication of the Jefferson Papers at Princeton University, found no trace of it eithere4*

Other recent works on American constitutional documents and institutions only quote parts, generally the preamble, of the declaration. Jean-Pierre Lassale wrote a study on American law and politics in which he included his own translations of the Constitution and of the preamble of the declaration, the latter accompanied by

42 Raynaud, "RPvolution ambricaine," 860-70.

43La Rochefoucauld's translation of the preamble and closing paragraph of the declaration appear in Philippe Sag- nac, La Fin de I'ancien rhgime et la re'volution amhricaine, 1763-1789 (The end of the ancien regime and the American Revolution, 1763-1789) (1941; Paris, 19521, 298-300. Becker, Dhclaration dfnde'pendance, trans. Bertrand and Holdt, 261 -74. The translation of the preamble of the declaration in that work appears in Andre Kaspi, Claude- Jean Bertrand, and Jean Heffer, La Civilisation amhricaine (American civilization) (Paris, 1979), 255.

44See Rials, Dhclaration des droits de l'homme et dz~ citoyen, 492-95; Barret-Kriegel, Droits de l'homme et le droit naturel, 107-1 1; Wood, Crhation de la re3ublique amhricaine, trans. Delastre, 733-36; Degler et al., Histoire des Etats-Unis, trans. Deutsch, 649-50; DPclaration d'independance. See also Lacorne, Invention de la re)ublique, 65; and Marie-France Toinet, Le Systime politique des Etats-Unis (The political system of the United States) (Paris, 1986),46-48. We are grateful to Professor John Catanzariti for having looked through the Papers of Thomas Jef- ferson and to the Paris and Washington staff members of the USIA for having researched in their archives.

some remarks about its dual impact as a universal message on the right to pursue one's happiness and as "an expression of national consciousness."45

Two issues-the American expression of a universal message and the particular event of the birth of a nation-are those that most interest the authors of the present article. As historians teaching American history to French university students and as scholars of the American Revolution and the early republic, we did not hap- pen to translate the Declaration of Independence. The document, however, seems to us of primary importance as embodying the spirit and principles, as well as the mythology and culture, of America. We have thus persistently reflected upon it (as well as upon other important texts of the period), using in our writings the transla- tion of the declaration in the French version of Becker's Our interpretations are no doubt influenced by our French culture and at the same time by our scholarly knowledge of the era. We address a French public that is not closely familiar with British-American political culture, while regarding our own reflections as part of a dialogue between French and American scholars.

Due to the anticlerical turn of the French Revolution and the consequent course of history that resulted in 1904 in a strict separation of church and state-the former limited to the private sphere, the second occupying alone the public space- French readers, used to a more secular political discourse, need to have explained to them the resonance of the words "God," "Providence," and "Creator" in the pream- ble and in the concluding part of the declaration. Indeed, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 also acknowledged the presence and pro- tective action of God. The French philosophes, however, respected as they still are for the concepts they have bequeathed, are considered to belong to the past and to have used a language no longer relevant. The word "Providence," for instance, is no longer in use in French philosophical and more popular writings. Moreover, French students are rarely aware of the Anglo-American Enlightenment tradition.

It is thus quite difficult for French readers of the American Declaration of Inde- pendence to understand the perennial and sacred character of a document that still remains, with its original wording, a moral and political guide-the first part of a "secular American bible" whose second part would be the Constitution. Unlike American readers, who are steeped in the dominant ideology and who read in the founding texts the expression of universal values claimed by the .Euro-American

45 Jean-Pierre Lassale, "Les Institutions des Etats-Unis" (The institutions of the United States), La Documenta- tionfranfaise; Documents d'Ptude: Droit constitutionnelet institutionspolitiques (Paris) (no. l, 1997), 5.

46 Elise Marienstras, Les Mythesfondateurs de la nation ambricaine: Essai sur le discours iddologique aux Etats-Unis ii l2poque de li'ndbpendance, 1763-1800 (The founding myths of the American nation: An essay on ideological writings in the United States at the time of independence, 1763-1800) (1976; Brussels, 1992); Elise Marienstras, Nous, le Peuple: Les origznes du nationalisme amPricain (We, the people: The origins of American nationalism) (Paris, 1988), 285-391; Naomi Wulf, L'ZdPe de de'mocratie aux Etats-Unis, de 1828 21844, ii travers les Pcrits de Orestes Brownson (The idea of democracy in the United States, from 1828 to 1844, through the writings of Orestes Brownson) (forthcoming, Paris, 1999); Naomi Wulf, "Le Suffrage universel, ou le bonheur du plus grand nombre" (Universal suffrage or the happiness of the greatest number), Cahiers Charles V(Paris) (no. 22, 1997), 141-54.

Enlightenment, we, as French commentators on the Jefferson text, rather see in it an "American incarnation" of ancient dreams and utopias, which became part and par- cel of American nationalistic myth~logy.~' This anthropological approach helps explain the ambivalence of the theory of natural rights included in the phrase "all men are created equal," while it leaves unresolved the question of the origin in nature or in society, in mankind or in individuals, of the "unalienable rights": Do we have to read back to the time when men were created, or does the phrase mean that those rights belong to every man (or woman) at his (or her) birth?

It is not clear to us, either, to which rights exactly men are "entitled." Does the phrase "among these," which we could translate by the French tels que (such as) or even par exemple (for example), mean that "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happi- ness" are only some of the unalienable and natural rights? This partial formulation was, strangely enough, ignored by most American commentators on the declaration. For a French reader, who is used to the detailed enumeration of the civil and univer- sal rights of nature and society in the French declarations of rights, it is one of the mysteries contained in the American founding document.

As contemporary commentators on the Declaration of Independence, in the ques- tions we raise we often follow in the footsteps of Condorcet and other French revo- lutionaries, whose reception of American documents, as we have seen above, exemplified the gap between the French and American conceptions of rights. Indeed, they understood that, while resting on universal principles, every nation- and the American nation is no exce~tion-articulates a 1

1 articular character.

It is on this national character that we have dwelt over the years, wondering whether the nation grew out of the Revolution, or whether, previous to its indepen- dence, the "good People of these Colonies" mentioned in the declaration already formed a body politic empowered to address the world. This raises, for instance, the issue of the real authorship of the document. Although it is clear that it was written


by Jefferson and revised by a few persons, the question of the authors' legitimacy may be raised. Who, besides the Continental Congress, which was not mandated by the whole people, had the authority to declare its independence? What was the iden- tity of the "good People of these Colonies"? When the Continental Congress dele- gated power to the Committee of Five to write the declaration, was there already a body politic to author this document? In other words, did the declaration pro-- ceed from one potential nation, whose decision was endorsed by the writers and signers of the document, or did the document create the nation by the sole act of a pr~clamation?~~

Countries all have their national holidays, and generally one of them is consid-

"See Elise Marienstras, "Nation er religion aux Etats-Unis" (Nation and religion in the United States), Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions (Paris) (no. 83, 1993), 11-24. The phrase "American incarnation" is taken from Myra Jehlen, American Incarnation: The Individual, the Nation, and the Continent (Cambridge, Mass., 1986).

"See Fauri, ed., Ce que diclarer des droits veut dire, 21-34. There are interesting remarks on the authorship and legitimacy of the Declaration of Independence in Jacques Derrida, Otobiographies: L'enseignement de Nietwche et la politique du nom propre (Otobiographies: The teachings of Nietzche and the politics of naming) (Paris, 1984), 13-32.

ered as the nation's anniversary. They often, however, refer more to republican revo- lutions than to national certificates of birth. The French Fourteenth of July (Bastille Day, as it is called abroad) is not the birthday of t he French nation; it is the symbolic birthday of the republican regime-the real, historical birthday of the First Repub- lic took place only three years later. In July 1789, the People seized-part of-the state sovereignty, and the modern French state was born, while the nation itself, although it changed hands, had existed for a long time before. As in many European countries, the French nation preceded the modern nation-state.49

In the United States, the Fourth of July marks the celebration of the birth of the nation itself. We have speculated at length upon the nature of the nation that was born, according to the calendar of the American civil religion, on the Fourth of July 1776. Nowhere, in the founding text of the nation, however, is the word "nation" mentioned. The nation appears only at the end of the document, in its shape of one, or rather thirteen, bodies politic. The "Free and Independent States" are described in their capacity to act as sovereign bodies in their relations with other sovereign pow- ers. Furthermore, the sovereign states are said to be able to do "other . . . Things" that independent states are entitled to do. What kind of actions and in which realm would they be performed but in the realm of foreign affairs? This power is certainly sufficient for a nation to assert its sovereignty on the international scene. But the internal components of the nation are left obscure. The character of the nation, as a cultural, "imagined" community, is absent from the text. Only toward the end do the grievances decribe the bitterness of the British colonists deserted by their "Brit- tish brethren," who have not listened to the call of "consanguinity." Thus, says the declaration, the ties of kinship have been dissolved. Indeed, the many pamphlets that were published at the time convey an idea of a former Anglo-American nationality based on common blood. But, as Thomas Jefferson had explained in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, nation-belonging proceeds from the free choice of the members of the nati0n.5~ Thus acted the Founding Fathers when breaking their ties with their British kin and declaring it to the whole world. They anchored their faith in the building of the nation, in the Declaration of Independence and later in the Constitution, whose sanctity would be at once the pillars and the ingre- dients of the nation yet to arise.

49In this interpretation of nationalism, we differ with scholars such as Eric Hobsbawm, Nations andNationa1- ism since 1780:Programme, Myth, Realiy (Cambridge, Eng., 1990).

'O Boyd, ed., Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 121 -35.

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